Aerobatic champion, air show superstar, Red Bull racer—Michael Goulian is all of these. But in his day job, if you will, he’s president of Executive Flyers Aviation, a second-generation flight school founded by his father, Myron, in 1964.
“Flight training was my dad’s entire life,” Goulian says. “He started with one airplane and a little kiosk in the lobby of the terminal of Hanscom airport,” and went on to become a noted aviation figure in the northeast, training hundreds of pilots in the process.
Now with a second location at Lawrence Municipal Airport in Massachusetts, Goulian and his brother Matthew, director of maintenance, carry on the Executive Flyers Aviation tradition with a combination of professionalism and passion. “You’re not going to make a million dollars in the flight school business, so you have to have a passion for the industry and, more importantly, a passion for people and wanting to watch people fulfill a dream,” Goulian says. “Making dreams is more important than making money at Executive Flyers. If you accomplish the first goal, the second one will take care of itself. That’s what my dad believed in, and he passed that on to my brother and me.”
Flight Training Done Right
At a time when general aviation is struggling and AOPA reports that 70% of student pilots drop out before completing their instruction, Executive Flyers is more successful than most in gaining and retaining students. So their operations, and Goulian’s perspective on flight training, are instructive for students, flight school operators and instructors alike.
The positive impression of Executive Flyers starts at the door. Its clean and new, purpose-built office-hangar complex in Lawrence has a bright, modern reception area and plenty of office space for students and instructors to powwow. The school’s fleet is impeccably maintained. Aircraft are cleaned after each flight. A detailer is on staff to buff surfaces, clean leather and shine prop spinners.
“We have really great equipment, and we want people who can’t afford or don’t want the hassle of owning an airplane to still be in love with our planes like they were their own,” Goulian says as we walk through the main hangar, the floor polished to a mirror-like shine. “We take as good care of our equipment as a person would if this was their personal dream plane.”
In addition to Cessna 172s and 182s, the Executive Flyers fleet also includes a Piper Arrow, Beech Duchess, American Champion Decathlon and an Extra 300L.
Executive Flyers is a Part 141 flight school, so the syllabus and training is more structured than a Part 61 flight school requires. What’s most important is that the training be tailored to the needs and goals of the individual student. That’s something Goulian feels too many flight schools don’t heed.
“Every student is learning how to fly for a different reason, whether for a career, a hobby, or because they want to eventually buy their own personal jet to fly for their own business,” Goulian notes. “So as an instructor and school, you have to know what the goals and aspirations are for the customer. Because once the school knows that, that’s how you interact.”
“So many instructors have come from the big aviation colleges, and they train their own students the way they were trained,” he continues. “That’s okay if you’re going to be an airline pilot, but not a pleasure pilot. So, I think the system is broken because we’re trying to teach hobbyists how to fly a Boeing or Airbus, and prospective professional and recreational student pilots need two distinctly different approaches.”
Executive Flyers is a Cessna Pilot Center, and Goulian feels the online tools Cessna provides are a big advantage for students in today’s world, with so many competing demands for their time. “You can continue learning to fly with online training when you’re on the road,” he says.
Executive Flyers has a roster of about 15 flight instructors, both full- and part-timers, from recently minted CFIs to retired military pilots. “For me, the age of the instructor has really nothing to do with their instructional capabilities. It’s all about the human being,” says Goulian. “In reality, their flying skills need to be average, but their interpersonal skills need to be exceptional, because you’re going to sit in close proximity to a person that is used to high levels of service and excellence and professionalism for 50 or 75 hours. So you don’t need to be Charles Lindbergh to teach somebody to fly, but you certainly need to be caring and communicative and calm, because you’re on a journey together.”
Flight schools are sometimes considered a haven for CFIs who aren’t enthusiastic about teaching but are simply seeking to build hours and move on to a job flying for an airline, a corporation or some other left-seat assignment. Senior flight instructor Sean Brodeur says the company screens CFI applicants with exactly those concerns in mind. “Our interview and evaluation process filters out the guys who are just in it to build time and not be commited to the customer,” says Sean, himself an 8,000-hour career instructor. “We look for people who are passionate about what they do and put heart and soul into things.”
In fact, Executive Flyers actively seeks instructors with higher aspirations. The hires simply have to be dedicated to being superior teachers while at the company. “We want instructors to turn over every once in a while,” Goulian says. “We want people flying with us to be chasing a dream—be it in the cockpit of an airliner, or flying off a carrier. If they do that, that’s awesome.”
Flight instructors at Executive Flyers are dedicated to and passionate about training students.
Consequently, instructor alums from the school have gone on to fly for the airlines, for leading corporations, to fly fighters for the Air Force and Navy, and even fly on the Space Shuttle. “It’s quite an honor for us,” says Goulian.
Dante Conley, who earned her certificate this past spring, examined several local flight schools before choosing Executive Flyers because of its combination of professionalism and personal touch. “The thing that really struck me is it’s an extremely organized program,” Dante says. “They want to know your goals, your personality, and the kind of instructor you’d work best with. At every turn, I was impressed with how thoughtfully they took my own considerations into account.”
A Complete Fleet
The school currently has about 25 aircraft, primarily Cessna 172s and Cessna 182s, some with glass, others with steam gauge panels. Goulian is concerned about the impact glass panels are having on basic flying and decision-making abilities, so at Executive Flyers, students are exposed to both.
“The stick-and-rudder skills of today’s pilots are gone, or they’re eroding very quickly,” Goulian says. “There are a lot of people who think if you put glass in an airplane and you give pilots weather information and you make sure they don’t stall the plane, that they’re never going to have a problem. That’s so far from the truth.”
For complex training, the school has a Piper Arrow, while a Beechcraft Duchess is used for multi-engine work. Basic aerobatics and upset and recovery training are available in an American Champion Decathlon. “The Decathlon is probably the busiest airplane in the fleet,” Goulian says, and it’s especially popular with customers who have just completed their primary flight training. “With the aerobatic program, they enjoy the camaraderie and the challenge. And some go on to compete in aerobatic contests at the primary and sportsman level, just for fun.”
For students interested in taking aerobatics to the next level, the school has an Extra 300L, a two-place version of the airplane Goulian flies in his air shows. And Goulian occasionally instructs aerobatic students himself. “The truth is, I’m no more magical teaching somebody how to do a loop than one of our instructors,” he says. “But once you’re starting to compete and you want to know the tricks, and you want to get the last 10%, I can help you. But you don’t need that at hour five—you need that at hour 50.”
Two Skycatchers will be joining the fleet in 2011, and Goulian anticipates they’ll be very popular with students.
Goulian remains active with his other commitments. He has two new sponsors for his air show performances: “aerotainment” outlet airshowbuzz.com and Sony Creative Software, which makes the digital tools Goulian was already using to create the music soundtracks that accompany his air shows. And he’s looking ahead to the possible resumption of the Red Bull Air Races in 2012.
But someday, he realizes, his performing days will come to an end, and you know where you’ll be able to find him then. “When I retire from flying air shows, I want to be able to sit here and be able to do what my dad did, though I don’t think I’ll be able to fill his shoes,” Goulian says. “I’m not a serial entrepreneur. For me it’s about being proud someday that I made the aviation business better than when I got here, and knowing I made the industry better for future generations.”
Michael Goulian’s Top 10 Tips For Proficient Piloting
|1) Learn and understand the Pitch-Power-Performance concept.
2) Know and respect the limits of your piloting skills.
3) Know and respect the limits of your aircraft.
4) Don’t ever fly when you’re at the limits of your personal skills or the aircraft’s capabilities. Reach either one and you’re “hanging it out there.” Reach both simultaneously, and disaster is lurking.
6) Don’t substitute technology for judgment.
7) If you rely on your machine to work perfectly to keep you out of trouble, you’re in trouble.
8) Work on short-field landings without the aid of your electronics. If you think 3,000 feet in a light single is short, you need more practice.
9) Listen to your airplane—it’s always talking to you. That new vibration you’ve felt for the past few hours on the hobbs might just be getting ready to ruin your day.
10) Poor airspeed control is the result of poor attitude control. Watch your pitch attitude, and your airspeed will behave.